Researchers from the University of Turku identified seven new species of ferns in the tropical rainforests of the United States. Many of the species were discovered through ecological research. Because of this, the species diversity of tropical forests is so poorly understood that field trips to the herbarium and field work keep uncovering previously unknown species.
Scientists from the University of Turku’s Amazon research group have a long history of discovering species previously undiscovered by science. They have now described seven new species, six of which are part of the genus Amazon ferns. DanaeaOne of the genus Dennstaedtia.
“The species described are not small or obscure creatures. Janina Keskiniva, Doctoral Researcher, says that they range in height from 20cm up to 2m high and some are quite common locally.
There are six of them. DanaeaThe researchers described one species, and Professor Hanna Tuomisto noticed it in 1998. It formed dense stands that stretched for kilometers in an area of lowland Amazonian forest in Colombia. Tuomisto was doing fieldwork for several months.
“Because the forest is largely intact and there are very few people living in the area, the new species seem to be doing well. Tuomisto explains that another of the newly discovered species is now at risk of extinction because of deforestation in Colombia’s coastal rainforests.
Many species are discovered on field trips to remote areas.
It is not known how diverse the tropical rainforests are in terms of species. Researchers believe that every field trip to a new location has a high probability of discovering something new.
It is crucial to be able to identify and determine the origins of each species in order for ecological and other research. This information is essential for setting conservation priorities. In the long-term, species survival depends on the preservation of their natural habitats. Tuomisto says that protecting areas with unique species and habitats is essential to prevent biodiversity loss.
Researchers often assume that plant specimens are one of the species they have collected and stored in herbaria. A proper comparison of the specimens could reveal that new species are hiding in plain sight in existing collections.
“Most of our specimens that we used to describe this new product were not available.” DanaeaSome species were already collected in the 1800’s decades ago. The specimens have been kept in various herbaria throughout the years. We could now combine all the information we have accumulated from the herbaria with new insights from field studies done by us and our collaborators,” Keskiniva says.
The fern specimen that led to the description of the new DennstaedtiaGabriela Zuquim, University of Turku researcher, collected species 15 years ago
“I was taking photos in the forest to create a field guide of Ferns. It was getting dark so I was returning to camp when I noticed an unfamiliar fern. Zuquim recalls, “I had never seen anything like it before so I made an extra effort to collect it.”
Now she has described the species as new to science together with the Brazilian researchers Túlio Pena and Pedro Schawrtsburd, who are sorting out the species limits and species names in this fern genus.
Zuquim says, “The area where I collected this species has very diverse soils than most central Amazonian forest forests, so I’m sure many more discoveries can there be.”
Amazonia has many soil types that create a mosaic, which can have an impact on how species evolve and establish.
“Our long-term goal is to better understand the Amazonian rainforest’s biodiversity. We are particularly interested in the factors that determine which species are grown where and why. Also, what are the driving forces behind the evolution of new species? Tuomisto says that although I initially didn’t want to describe new species, I quickly realized that it was impossible to communicate ecology and evolution without names for the species we study.”
Amazonia, the largest tropical forest area in the world, is home to a large part of global biodiversity. It stores large amounts of carbon and regulates both global and regional rainfall patterns. Conserving Amazonian biodiversity is crucial for planet well-being.